Wednesday 26 October 2016

Tributes pour in for Peter O'Sullevan after 'Voice of Racing' passes away aged 97

Peter O'Sullevan, known to many as simply the 'Voice of Racing', has died at the age of 97, the BBC has announced on its Twitter feed
Peter O'Sullevan, known to many as simply the 'Voice of Racing', has died at the age of 97, the BBC has announced on its Twitter feed

Tributes poured in for Peter O'Sullevan after the 'Voice of Racing' passed away peacefully at home on Wednesday at the age of 97.

O'Sullevan was the commentator for the BBC for 50 years, a tenure stretching from 1947 until his retirement in 1997.

Known for his sharp mind, even well into his later life, he had a delivery like no other and his description of the 1977 Grand National, which was Red Rum's famous third success, and Desert Orchid's popular Cheltenham Gold Cup victory in 1989 will never be forgotten.

He was awarded a knighthood before his 50th and final Grand National commentary and even until very recently was still a regular visitor to the Cheltenham Festival. His work continued as he raised millions of pounds for charities.

Nigel Payne, chief executive of the Sir Peter O'Sullevan Charitable Trust, said: "Sir Peter died very peacefully, at home.

"Sir Peter was one of the greatest men I've ever known. Only last week he was talking about what he wanted me to do for the trust in the future. He was still very alert. It's a sad day."

O'Sullevan began his career in racing in print journalism, working for the Press Association before joining the Daily Express.

Known as one of the shrewdest punters in the game, he was still beating the bookies in his later years.

As well as being famous for his achievements behind the microphone, O'Sullevan was also a successful owner.

Be Friendly won the King's Stand at Royal Ascot and the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp as well as two Haydock Sprint Cups, and perhaps most famously of all his Attivo won the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1974, a race O'Sullevan later described as the hardest to call in his life.

Broadcaster and pundit John McCririck described O'Sullevan as the "ultimate professional".

He told Sky Sports News: "Everyone will say he was the voice of racing, because he was. His commentaries will live for centuries.

"All the great races since the war have been called by Sir Peter O'Sullevan until his retirement.

"Underneath it he was a tough, hard journalist, a secretive man and a quiet man.

"You respected what he said. He had very strong opinions, not popular with everyone. A lot of people will be eulogising about him, quite rightly, but he was tough and hard underneath and to his soul a journalist.

"Commentary has evolved, helped by Sir Peter, of course, but he was a commentator from another era. He was recognised for his commentary and set the benchmark.

"His journalism was absolutely outstanding and he was the ultimate professional."

Jim McGrath, who succeeded O'Sullevan as the BBC racing commentator, told At The Races: "It's a very sad day in racing and you can feel that here at Goodwood. It's dawning on people that the man they knew as the voice of racing for more than two generations, the voice that was synonymous with our sport for so many people, has gone. It's hard to believe.

"At (the age of) 97, it's a great knock, but at the same time he was razor-sharp in his mind right to the very end, although he did say to me recently 'I don't think the body's designed to last 100 years!'.

"He was a great, great man. He had a complete understanding and appreciation of exactly what was happening on the racecourse.

"His name lives on with his charities and the amount of money he's raised has been quite incredible. It is a mark of the man."

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